I have known about Marty for ages, mainly because of references in other films such as Quiz Show, but I didn’t get around to actually watching it till today. I have always like Ernest Borgnine for his comedic, somewhat campy roles in his later films, and I knew this was his best, most dramatic role. I knew that Marty would be good, and found that it is really great.
Borgnine deserved the best actor Oscar he won for his performance of the title role. His looks and screen persona were, and still are, really best suited to comedy, but he was able to bend to play dramatic part that is both sweet and sympathetic, and who turns out to be much more complex than he appears at first glance. But it is Paddy Chayefsky’s script that really makes this a touching story.
Chayefsky grew up in the Bronx as the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants, and his background allowed him to bring a wonderfully accurate, social realistic approach to Marty which fleshes out the rather simple love story, making it compelling. Marty’s difficult relationship with his widowed Italian mother, who is afraid of being tossed aside if her only remaining single child gets hitched, is vibrantly written and forms the center of the story. But there are lots of little details that only a Bronx boy could have written. When Marty’s constant pal Angie looks goes into their usual hangout to look for his friend, who is out with the first woman he has met in his 34 years that he actually connects with. As we watch Angie look around the crowded diner for Marty, we overhear the conversation of two ladies with Irish accents who are gossiping about the neighbor who had 6 children until her doctor informed her that another child would kill her. When one gossiper tells the other that woman did have a 7th baby, and did indeed die, the other is complete nonplussed by the news. This exchange happens in a corner of the screen and is completely incidental to the main story, but it’s the little details like this that add so much color to the story.
It’s worn out cliché when talking about older movies to say “they don’t make movies like that anymore.” But Marty is a kind of movie that does come along every now and then, just not often enough—a seemingly simple no-frills story that turns out to be rich and touching. Marty was made for under $350,000, because it was a story-based film. It went on to make ten times that at the box office because it is was such a good story.